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Thursday, 14 May 2020
Page: 69

COVID-19: Women

Senator STOKER (Queensland) (14:23): My question is for the Minister for Women, Senator Payne. Can the minister advise of the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on women?

Senator PAYNE (New South WalesMinister for Foreign Affairs and Minister for Women) (14:23): I thank Senator Stoker for her question. The COVID-19 pandemic is affecting the lives of women and men differently. And today's job figures do reinforce this: of the jobs lost in the month to 20 April, 55 per cent of those had been held by women, and that reflects the fact that many less secure jobs are held by women, and women are over-represented in occupations strongly affected by some of our very necessary physical distancing measures. I note that women's workforce participation has also fallen by 2.9 percentage points to 58.4 per cent.

The demand for unpaid care work, which we know disproportionately affects women's ability to undertake paid employment, has risen with children needing home schooling, and with the increased care needs of elderly Australians as well. However, as a government, we are very aware that women will be vital to the economic recovery. Australia needs everyone's full capabilities, both men and women, to ensure that recovery. That's why the government's introduction of the JobKeeper payment to help keep Australians employed is so important, as the Minister for Finance has reinforced today, particularly in ensuring women in seriously affected industries are supported through the pandemic. It's also why we also ensured that free early-childhood education and care for about a million families, no matter what type of service they use, was available in the pandemic. As the Treasurer said earlier this week, I would remind the chamber: 'We know that a strong economy is the foundation for everything else'. And women will be particularly critical to ensuring our economy remains strong as we emerge from this pandemic.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Stoker, a supplementary question?

Senator STOKER (Queensland) (14:25): Can the minister advise the Senate of the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the risk of family and domestic violence, and advise of what the government is doing to address that risk?

Senator PAYNE (New South WalesMinister for Foreign Affairs and Minister for Women) (14:25): Senator Stoker asks a very serious question, because we know that major crisis events have, historically, led to an increased incidence of violence against women. As senators would be aware, the government has announced—Minister Ruston and I—$150 million in support for the COVID-19 domestic violence support package, funding that will help states and territories to meet immediate needs for crisis accommodation, frontline services and perpetrator intervention programs. And we've seen a number of those rolled out and announced by the states and territories in that context. To ensure that Australians know where to turn for support, we have also launched the Help is Here campaign, which provides that clear information on how Australians are able to access services at any time of the day or night. There are indicators of a greater need for services, most certainly. 1800 RESPECT has seen an increase in calls, particularly after midnight. The No to Violence Men's Referral Service experienced a very significant increase in demand after those community restrictions were announced. (Time expired)

The PRESIDENT: Senator Stoker, a final supplementary question?

Senator STOKER (Queensland) (14:26): Can the minister advise the Senate of what Australia is doing internationally to help women and girls through the coronavirus pandemic?

Senator PAYNE (New South WalesMinister for Foreign Affairs and Minister for Women) (14:26): It is fair to say that the particular impacts of COVID-19 on women are of course not confined to Australia. I've had a number of valuable discussions with foreign and women's ministers around the world across many countries about the importance of ensuring that gender inequalities aren't exacerbated or entrenched by COVID-19, and these conversations are ongoing. Australia has also joined a number of strong international statements and resolutions that help to increase the focus in international bodies and conversations on promoting gender responsiveness to the pandemic. In our region, the Australian partnership Pacific Women is supporting crisis centres that are providing remote counselling and frontline services for vulnerable women, and through our Nabilan program we're working to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in women's shelters in Timor-Leste, in particular. With international partners such as UN Women we're adapting and boosting our efforts to address the impact on women in the Indo-Pacific region.